UNC System President Tom Ross is on the way out.
The decision was announced on Friday. Ross will be transitioning out of his role effective January 3, 2016, or when his successor is in place, whichever is later.
At a press conference with President Ross and Board Chairman John Fennebresque, it was very clear the timeline the board had in mind for a transition was very different than the timeline Ross had planned.
The chairman praised the job Ross has done leading the UNC sytem.
“This board believes Tom Ross has been a wonderful president, fantastic work ethic, perfect integrity, [and] worked well with our board.”
Chairman Fennebresque adds age was not a factor in the decision to transition out of the Presidency of Tom Ross. And Ross says he was always transparent with his desire to work past age 65.
“When I came here, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to be ready to stop working at 65,” he says. “I don’t know how much longer, but I wasn’t planning on leaving in the near future.”
The chairman says a search firm will consult during the process of finding Ross’ successor.
“We’re not in a hurry because it’s got to be the right decision,” he says.
It was noticeable throughout the press conference that Fennebresque was annoyed by the notion politics had anything to do with the decision to transition from Ross at the head of the system. Fennebresque says he received no political pressure to make this decision.
“There’s one of me and 32 [board members],” he says. “I have had absolutely none.”
Ross says he was approached about the transition possibility “a few days ago.”
“The board did have a different timeline,” he says. “We’ve developed a plan that will allow for a smooth transition and will allow the university to continue its work. And that has to be the most important thing.”
When pressed to give an actual reason for the transition, or what the board would be looking for going forward, no concrete answer was given by the chair.
“A lot of that is going to be determined by a search committee,” he says. “It’s all new.”
The chairman did say the student-athlete scandal did not play into the decision.
“I would suggest to you that President Ross has handled that situation, managed that situation, led that situation in exemplary fashion,” he says.
Several local leaders released statements after the decision was announced:
Congressman David Price:
“I am shocked and troubled by the news that Tom Ross has been asked to resign as President of the UNC System by its Board of Governors. He has done an outstanding job shepherding our state’s greatest educational asset through a tumultuous period and preparing its students for continued excellence in spite of serious financial constraints.
“Tom is a personal friend, and I know him to be a man of great integrity and vision. I am baffled by the Board’s decision to forgo his leadership at such a critical point in the UNC System’s history and concerned about the signal it sends regarding our state’s commitment to higher education.”
Statement from Chancellor Carol L. Folt:
“This morning, we learned that President Tom Ross will be stepping down as the University of North Carolina president in January 2016. I want to take this opportunity to thank President Ross for his leadership, dedication and service to the entire University, and especially to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
From my very first days as a new chancellor, I have been inspired by President Ross’ belief in and support for the students, faculty and staff in Chapel Hill and throughout the UNC System. I have enjoyed working with him and have learned a great deal from him about how to lead with passion and integrity.
Carolina will continue to work closely with President Ross over the coming year and will partner with Carolina’s Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors on strategic plans for both our campus and the UNC System.
Please join me in thanking President Ross for his support and commitment to Carolina, and wishing him well in all of his future endeavors.”
Statement from Lowry Caudill, Chair of UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees:
“The legacy of Tom Ross will be one of service to the citizens of North Carolina and, of course, to the University. Our Board appreciates his support for UNC-Chapel Hill and we wish him well in all his future endeavors.”